Breast cancer sufferer tells how she waded through the British benefits system
Sherry is a 51-year-old divorcee living in the UK. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2003 and with secondary stomach cancer in May 2004. Money worries caused her a huge amount of stress in the early days after her diagnosis. Here she explains how, with dogged determination, she managed to wade her way through the bureaucratic British benefits system in order to ease the financial burden which often accompanies cancer.
“One of the things that has caused me huge stress since my diagnosis is the financial worry and I wish I'd had someone who could have given me all the information early on. I live alone, have a mortgage but can no longer work and I had no experience whatsoever of the benefits system. I was in the process of arranging to sell my house and to move into a rented property to release capital to finance day to day living. It was my Macmillan nurse who gave me the information on the various benefits and now that these are in place I am able to stay in my own home.
The last thing a single woman with cancer needs is financial pressure but there is help out there if you know where to look for it.
There were many things I was completely in the dark about and I'm sure there are many others who have absolutely no experience or knowledge of the benefit system available. It's only when one starts probing, the system opens up. I’m now on Statutory Sick Pay from my employer which is £290 per month and only lasts for 28 weeks. For many months I thought that was all I was entitled to receive. The Macmillan nurse suggested I speak to Job Centre Plus (they have a Department for Work and Pensions) and gradually financial benefits became available and were eventually even backdated to the beginning of my diagnosis.
I now receive Disability Living Allowance and Income Support. I do not have to pay any Council Tax, Road Fund Licence and even Thames Water helps with the water bills. I get free prescriptions, dental treatment and eye tests and glasses. I have a Blue Badge for my car which enables me to park almost anywhere at any time free of charge and in the area where I live that’s a huge advantage. The Building Society has allowed me to take a six month mortgage "holiday" which is allowing me a bit of breathing space before I have to decide whether it will be necessary to sell my house.
Because my cancer is advanced and terminal this gives me a right to the highest rate of Disability Living Allowance, which then entitles me to the other benefits, so there are different rates and levels depending upon the medical prognosis…and every little helps. The Benefits Department writes to your GP and/or Oncologist for full medical reports and this seems to take forever - the form filling is endless and can be very confusing. I am sure a lot of people miss out on the financial help (especially if they
are suddenly taken very ill) but there are lots of benefits and one seems
to lead to another.
The system is a bit like the medical one. You have to do a certain amount of research yourself, ask the right questions…and keep probing!
If you’d like to discuss any of these issues with Sherry, you can contact her via:firstname.lastname@example.org